Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Human Towers Of La Merce

Every year, towards the end of September, the Spanish town of Barcelona hosts its largest street party – the “La Merce” Festival. One of the highlights of the event is the building of impressive human towers, by acrobats known as “castellers”. Translated as “castle builders”, castellers are the people that take part in the building of the human towers, in the middle of Placa de Jaume. Surrounded by thousands of people who come to see them at work, the teams of castellers create impressive tower formations, several meters high. As you might imagine, this kind of exercise requires quite a deal of practice and planning, but if successful, their human structure is truly a sight to behold. The tradition of building human towers known as “castells” began during the 18th century, in the town of Valls, Tarragona, where groups of castellers would compete in building the best human castles we know today. The tradition was kept alive throughout the centuries, and various teams of castellers still compete in front of thousands, to erect the tallest, most impressive castells. To construct a fine human tower, a great deal of technique is required, and a series of factors has to be taken into consideration. First, the base of the tower, known as the pinya, is formed with great discipline, requiring all the members of the group to take their allotted positions. Then the layers of the castell begin to rise, with the strongest members of the group making up the lower levels, while the lightest, more agile members climb on their shoulders. The last person to climb on top of the human tower is the anxaneta, a young boy or girl, who has to raise their hand and wave to public. This is the highlight of the event, as only then is the castell considered crowned. But, considering some castells grow to be 8-9 levels high, building them is only have the job, and taking them down is also very tricky. However, the castellers are seasoned athletes who practice all year long, just to avoid accidents from happening. La Merce Festival is the highlight of their yearly schedule, but they can be seen performing at various venues, throughout Europe, all year long.

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